I wanted
it to be my night.


It was in fact my thirtieth birthday, my
team’s homecoming, and it indeed had all the makings of perfection; but it
became her night, and I couldn’t have been any happier for it. If anything, it
should have been their night—their
senior night, a group of graduating high school wrestlers who, through clichéd
blood, sweat, and tears earned the right to call it theirs. I was only their


by all respects, is a profession full of lessons in humility, at least if
handled with a certain level of respect and a pursuit of wisdom. The endeavor
itself teaches these lessons. The athletes do as well. But our lesson that
night was Molly’s gift.


Matt was
Molly’s son, and our team captain. He was one of the best wrestlers, most
assuredly the most dedicated, I ever coached. His gifts came from both natural
athleticism and undeniable courage. There are brave men and there are fearless
men. I’ve been party to debates concerning the moral, social, and intellectual
ins and outs of fearlessness. Some make is synonymous with stupidity. I
disagree. Regardless, Matt was truly fearless, one of a few I’ve ever known to
carry the label.


Maybe he
learned it from his mother. As saintly as most perceive her, I could see others
describing her with the same moniker. Even when she told me she had breast
cancer, her eyes and soul spoke only of fearlessness. But she’d be the first to
tell anyone she was afraid. She owns her emotions, and her acceptance of the
world around her is a testament to her character.


Maybe Matt
was stupid. Stupid to never be afraid. Stupid to look into his opponent’s eyes
and draw none of his own apprehensions. I wish I was that stupid. I wish Molly
was. I wish she didn’t have to be afraid when she was and didn’t have to know
the darkness that comes with a life-threatening evil that we still barely




was the last home match of the wrestling season. We called this senior night,
an evening dedicated to the efforts of those young men who dedicated years to
the sport and would, for the last time, wrestle under the spotlight once more in
their high school gym. Four long years had come to a close. We also would
recognize the parents and thank them for their dedication to our program, thank
them for all the sacrifices.


The typical
wrestling season encompasses both Thanksgiving and Christmas. How many of our
athletes that year skipped the gravy and passed the pie is anyone’s guess.
Anyone’s but mine. I knew who paid the price and who did not. But it was family
sacrifice that was most important, not just the individual. Parents planned
vacations around our practice schedules, spent fortunes on special diets, and
did anything I asked of them over the course of the many months I trained their


night was for them as much as it was for our boys. But as the night’s events
began (even with the intricacy of our plans in place), I still gripped the part
of my ego that wanted to steal the night and make it mine. “I can’t believe how
well the boys did tonight” or “Wow, what you did for Molly was amazing,” they
would say. I’d be the hero, the saint for once.


And my team
was ready.




our 14-man lineup, eight of our varsity starters were ranked in the state of
Colorado. And that was in 5A, the toughest and largest division, composed of
schools with populations of around 1800 to 2000, 5000 at extremes. Many of
those nine, and others on the team, would become family.


Our first
senior in the lineup was Stevie-J. At 119 pounds, most wouldn’t think much of a
young man of such stature in terms of physicality, but the sport of wrestling
is an opportunity for greatness for those of all sizes. Steve was tough and
tenacious, a veritable work-horse whose lack in wrestling talent was made up
for in his superior conditioning and dedicated work ethic.


Two seniors
split time at 130 pounds. Tim and David both worked hard and wrestled with
pride, but neither found much in the way of victory. Tim was the man on Jan.
29, but David ultimately won the spot. Tim wrestled for years, and knew the
techniques, but he lacked a plethora of physical abilities. This isn’t to say
the effort wasn’t there. He did his best, and won his fair share, completing a
four-year high school career for which he can have pride.


One of a
limited number of folks I consider good friends today was my 135 pounder at the
time. Ryan became an Academy cadet, but not before wrestling for me. He looked
the part, short and stocky without an ounce of fat. He cut about ten pounds to
find 135, and looked as trim as a fitness guru. One of my captains, Ryan had an
undeniable feel for the sport and won far more often than he lost.


Then came
Matt, our 140-pound captain, Molly’s son. He would later go on to wrestle in
college…even made the transition to another sport and found himself later as
the leader of a successful college rugby team. It was no secret that Matt was
our best wrestler. Unfortunately, he was just returning to the mat after a
devastating injury that almost stole his season. His commitment to the sport,
though, was unrivaled. He was the kind of kid who did sprints up the stairs at
his home with the goal of state gold and dreams of podiums floating in his


Sam was the
first of the bunch new to a varsity position. Before, he always seemed to find
himself reluctantly filling a junior varsity spot despite his best efforts.
There was always someone just one step ahead. Until his senior year. Sam was
long and lanky, but muscular all the same despite the apparent contradiction.
Ultimately, he placed in the Regional Championships in his first outing. He
wanted to win so badly and was so disappointed when he didn’t. 145 pounds was
one of the tougher weights in the state, and he made us all proud.


There has
always been a soft sport in my heart for the 152-pound weight class. It’s the
same spot I wrestled my senior year, so I can’t help but admit that our senior
there, Greg, got a bit more attention than most. In him, I saw potential for
the next level. He was quite capable of wrestling in college and we even were
able to secure him an open invite to Wyoming, a successful D1 school. Greg was
fit and lithe and moved better than most. After a tough junior year, his senior
year transition was miraculous and revealing. He had the gift, it just took him
longer to find it. He was a pleasure to watch at his best, and still exciting
to watch at his worst. He hung with and beat some of the best in the state. He
chose not to continue the sport in college, but it doesn’t matter. He learned
the lessons wrestling has to offer and I’m sure he uses them today.


Dalton was
an interesting kid. Goofy and awkward, he wore baggy clothes that barely
fit…usually the same outfits time and again, was incessantly polite, and
possessed something of an innocent ignorance. He wasn’t stupid by any means,
just different. I think the boys respected him for that. I can’t say that I
ever witnessed him having bad blood with anyone; he was just genuinely kind.
Dalton traveled with me to Europe on a student trip at the end of his senior
year. I don’t think anyone on the excursion appreciated the opportunity more
than he did. He was a fun wrestler to coach: 160 pounds, muscular, and quite
unorthodox. He was one of our highest ranked kids and also one of the few to
remain true to himself and his style throughout the season.


The last of
our seniors in the starting line-up was Gabe. Wrestling at the 189-pound weight
class, Gabe fluctuated in the top 10 of the rankings in 5A. He was tough,
strong as an ox, and stubbornly one dimensional. But, when the one dimension
works, go with it. His best move, the fireman’s carry, was damn near impossible
for most to avoid. I don’t remember Gabe as the hardest worker, the most dedicated
(as he was also a stud football player and thus had other interests), or the
quickest on his feet. I remember him for his wisecracks and wins. There were
plenty of both.


Of these
eight young men, seven of them were ranked in the state, and deservingly so.  Two other underclassmen were ranked as well. It
was a team any coach would love to have. But it was my team.


Just not
that night.


That night,
and the events to transpire became bigger than me, and far more profound than
team victory.




is hardly a color one would associate with a group of hard-nosed wrestlers bent
on their next win. But, it was a night for pink. A night of pink.


assistants and I all wore formal black on black, slick black button-downs
tucked into pressed black slacks over shined black shoes. The one glimpse of
color, a splash on the sea of darkness, was a pink tie.


wrestlers, on their own I might add, covered themselves in bright pink athletic
tape. They used it to tape their shoe laces (a necessity in the sport), and those
with injuries ranging from minor to major used the same pink tape to dress
their wounds and support sore joints. Not one of them considered not wrestling,
and I wasn’t about to rob them of this opportunity, the last home match of
their careers.


But it
wasn’t just the team. Spectators also, in some way or another, sported the awkward
color. Pink sweatshirts, t-shirts, bandanas, and more speckled the audience
like bits of cotton candy. Others pinned pink ribbons over their hearts, thus
revealing the purpose in our chosen hue.


We dedicated
the night to breast cancer awareness.


We dedicated
the night to Molly.


I think the
entire city found out; it appeared they were all there.




I have to back up, for this story really started months before.


It was the
first tournament of the season. The Survivor Series. Aptly named, the event
featured eleven schools. Each school was made to wrestle every other, yielding
a ten-match, two-day total. This is the most legally allowed in high school.
It’s also, and justly so, the toughest possible weekend. It was my invention
and my baby. And those boys won the damn thing in our first try.


It wasn’t
all pleasantries though that weekend. Matt suffered the most severe injury I’ve
ever seen as a coach in the sport during that first week. After going 5-0 to
end day one, Matt entered the second day of competition with the goal of the
title, nothing less. He deserved it and was the best among them.


It simply
wasn’t to be. Early in the match, and while simply moving for position, he
braced his right arm on the mat. Then, all was chaos. His opponent, a kid who
ultimately was one of his rivals, backed up in horror as Matt began to scream.


“FUCK…” he
shouted with no thought. No one could begrudge him the obscenity. His right arm
hung loosely at his side before he cradled it with his left. The flesh between
forearm and upper arm jiggled and revealed a dislocation.


His eyes
were wild as the shock and adrenaline took over. He searched the stands nearby
for his parents. They were sitting close to the mat, eager to cheer us on.


He found
his father, the doctor.


“Fuck, Dad.
Put it back in,” he said with the intensity of the moment. All eyes were on
Matt as several rushed toward him. His father was by his side in a heartbeat as
Molly covered her mouth in fear.


The school
trainer was quick to join and even the referee was there to offer any
assistance he could.


I should
have flown to the center too, but it took me longer.


I feel guilty
for the reasons why, and even let his father think it was because I was
grossed-out. But I’ve seen bad injuries before, and I’ve never shied from blood
or breaks. But my first thought, instinctive as it was, was so selfish.


I just lost my best wrestler, I thought. It was fleeting, but
there nonetheless, and even today it’s hard to admit. I don’t think I’ve ever
actually told anyone.


My next
reason wasn’t much better.


Matt’s opportunity for greatness is
over. His season is over.

These thoughts lasted longer, and at least they were free of my own ego. But I
still don’t think they were much more appropriate. I was so focused on winning
and prestige, even if for another human being, that I lost focus on what was
more important—what was of true value. I just felt so bad for him. The sorrow
sank in before I took my first step.


What took
others milliseconds, took me seconds. The thoughts were over and I joined the
others center mat. The opposing team’s wrestler was quick to my side.


“I’m so
sorry. Matt would have won. I’m so sorry,” he said. He was utterly devastated
by what happened. Truly remorseful, but for no reason.


worry about it, brother. It’s not your fault,” was all I could manage. After
that, I ignored the kid and fell into the military precision that is so often
evident in a crisis situation. I’ve found that many people are capable of doing
the right thing (and quickly) in the worst moments.


We carried
the stunned stud to the trainer’s room and set him on one of the padded tables
for examination.


The trainer
had no doubts.


dislocation is my guess,” he said nonchalantly.


Matt’s dad,
a doctor himself, was also a realist. He has truly seen it all in a medical
sense and immediately began helping while asking questions. His son’s shock was
quick to wear off, but not before I saw my own sorrow mirrored in Matt’s eyes.
He wanted this season so badly, and it was stolen from him. The emotion he wore
painted so vividly was brief. His eyes blinked in and out of consciousness as
the initial rush of adrenaline was followed by the drop that always comes.


ambulance arrived. Matt left, his family following.


It should
have been the end of his season. It should have all been over. The Survivor
Series was the first weekend in December. Saturday, December 6, Matt suffered a
severe double elbow dislocation. The injury required therapy and healing.


specific doctors told Matt that returning to competition was unrealistic. He
needed time, and the time simply wasn’t there. The Regional Championships were
the second week of February, and they didn’t see that as a possibility.


They didn’t
know Matt.


I’d like to
say that his doctor father and his worried mother gave him permission, but
that’s not Matt either. I imagine that it was more of an informative talk they


wrestling,” I’m guessing Matt told them one morning over breakfast. I’m
guessing they saw it in his eyes, understood his need to do what he set his
mind to, and acquiesced.


I’m sure
there was more to it than that. Matt’s parents are amazing and are first to
realize and teach the lessons of finality, risk, and more. But returning a
little early to the sport wasn’t outside the realm of reasonable safety, and
coupled with Matt’s single-sightedness, I’m willing to bet the conversation
didn’t last too long.


family believes in God. Wholeheartedly so. They also believe in miracles. And
with no disrespect whatsoever, I have to say…It wasn’t God who granted Matt’s
comeback before season’s end, and earlier than it should have been. It was


No other
kid I’ve ever coached would have had the courage to wrestle with what amounted
to one arm.




explained something to me just around the turn of that year. He was sitting in
my office as he couldn’t practice with the team, his arm draped across his body
in a sling.


“My mom has
breast cancer,” he muttered, already on the verge of tears.


I shut the
door after telling my assistant coaches to take over.


“Whoa,” I
started, “you know your mom is like my own. What the hell is going on?” I was
immediately scared for Molly. I had already become so close to the family and
had honestly never personally known or truly cared about anyone who had been
diagnosed with any kind of cancer. Before, it had always been a friend of a
friend, or a parent of a student…something like that.


He openly
began to cry.


“It’s a
miracle man, really,” he said. My jaw dropped wide and I didn’t get a chance to
ask for an explanation before he continued. “When I got hurt, we did something
to our insurance…changed it somehow. I don’t really know exactly. But, my mom
got a free exam or something with the switch. They found the cancer.” He was
starting to calm down. God that kid was so strong for a high-schooler.


I tried to
understand, but couldn’t.


“What?” was
all I could say.


“Because I
got hurt, they found her cancer earlier than they would have. It makes winning,
even wrestling again this year at all so much less important,” he said. It’s no
wonder he went on to study philosophy and theology in college.


We sat
together for a while and talked more, though I honestly can’t remember the rest
of the conversation. Ultimately, I would make it to their home and sit down
with Molly and her husband to get the details.


fight was just beginning.




is a typical progression for senior night. Presentation of seniors and their
parents. Words from the coach. Lights off, spotlight on. Team entrance.
Announcement of lineups. National Anthem. Wrestling.


We set and
still hold the school record for single-event attendance for that night. The
stands were at capacity. This might not be so impressive in a middle-class
school in Pennsylvania where wrestling is a religion, but in rich white
suburbia, it was an unnatural phenomenon. It didn’t hurt that A: We were
awesome that year, B: Most of the team was comprised of the seniors who ran the
school, C: I was a teaching seniors that year, and D: The community was quick
to spread word of our plans for breast cancer awareness and Molly.


I don’t think Molly at first noticed the sea
of pink. And with a little planning with Matt’s dad beforehand, she was
ignorant of the dedication we had planned.


First, it
was time to honor the seniors. I always loved this moment. One by one the
announcer called their names and read their accolades. They shook my hand then
approached their parents, giving their mothers a single rose and hugging it out
with their family on the wrestling mat. The cheers for each young man and his
family were tremendous and drowned the gym in a cacophony like I’ve never
experienced again since.


There may
have been a few more cheers for Matt and Mom, but I don’t think she noticed
that either.


No one
expected Matt’s return, but there he stood nonetheless. Side by side with his
mother and father, Matt was taped from wrist to shoulder on both arms with
fluorescent pink wrap. His right arm was wrapped for support and protection.
His left was done so his opponent wouldn’t know the difference immediately
between the two. He did this for the rest of the season.


My birthday
was forgotten as the crowd chanted and screamed.


opponents from a city over in Littleton were respectful, yet eager for the
match. I had enough presence of mind to let their coach know that it was our
senior night and that I would be giving a short speech.


After the
presentation, I took the microphone from the announcer. I’m pretty sure I
immediately began to tremor. This is very unlike me, but my trepidations for
the forthcoming emotional onslaught were already a factor. The parents had
already taken their seats and everyone was ready to get going.


thousands of eyes on me, I began to speak. I can hardly remember what I said.


“As you can
see by the mass of pink here tonight, I’m sure you can guess our purpose. Our
entire wrestling program, from youth through high school, wanted to dedicate
this night to breast cancer awareness. But…”


Now the
tears started to flow. I could barely keep it together.


“Tonight we
also wanted to recognize someone special. Our 140-pound team captain, as you all
know, is Matt. His mother Molly…has been…like a mother to me. And to many of
you.” Nearly everyone in the gym knew her to some degree.


I looked
around. Others were crying. Students, parents, even those from the other team.
I can’t say how many shirt cuffs became tissues. Molly was a hot mess.


I turned to
her and with words I don’t remember finished by offering her the night. The
crowd erupted in applause as we acknowledged her battle-to-come. I went to her,
hugged her tightly and she sat back down. There were cheers, sniffles, and
all-out bawls. I couldn’t think of a better present to get for my birthday than
the appreciation I saw in her swelling eyes.


I shook
hands with Matt’s father and turned back to my team.


The lights
went out and the boys left the gym to prepare for the match, disappearing into
the hallway that led upstairs to the wrestling room.




the hard sounds of Korn’s Shoots and
greeted the fans as our team’s entrance song. Maybe again my pride
spilling over as I relived my own high school days, the song was the same theme
we used when I was a senior back in ’97.
A mellow and mysterious melody of bagpipes began the song, epic as a
silent warrior, too proud for words. But then the drums hit, and the lead
singer would begin his metal chant that made our blood rise and got the crowd
to their feet. Then, the team would sprint in from a dark hallway and awe the
crowd with some quick moves on the mat.


Not this
time, though. My leaders, my seniors, chose a new song for the night. I’m Shipping Up to Boston by Dropkick
Murphys was the anthem of the year, a chart topper the kids adored. We didn’t
get it really, but we weren’t supposed to. I always wanted to intimidate with
entrance songs; our boys taught us to have fun. The pirate-esque chanting
sailor’s song was a reminder to enjoy the moment.


The team
dashed into the gym as the music began and took their lap of the mat under the
center spotlight, all other lights in the gym long since extinguished. They
rushed through a few takedown drills, then brought their hands together at
center mat, screaming their cheer for the audience like they never had before.


It sounds
quite fictionalized and dramatized as I relive it, but things really were this


our opponents knew things could get underway. They rose and took their place
along one edge of the mat and we took ours. The announcer slowly began to
introduce the lineups. At each weight class, the wrestlers would shake each
other’s hand, and then run to the opposing team’s coach to shake his. At least
at the high school level, there is a lot of respect shown in our sport.


As he read
each name, the announcer also mentioned if the young man was ranked in the
state or not. Our opponents were no slouches. They had their fair share of
ranked individuals as we had ours. Even these announcements added to the
evening’s ambiance, revealing the key bouts.


He finally
reached the 140-pound weight class. During the weigh-ins, we had already found
out the identity of Matt’s opponent, a state-ranked team captain. Now, the
spectators got to find out. The announcer rattled off the names and rankings.
It was something like 9th and 11th in the state in favor
of Matt. He would have been ranked higher, but he was just returning from a
devastating injury. Ninth was a gift from the man who compiles the list…simply
out of respect for what Matt had


We knew
Matt’s night would be tough.


We started
in the lower weights and were rolling pretty even. Our younger starters at 103
and 112 traded wins with the other team, and brought us to our first senior,
Stevie-J. Unfortunately, he was ill that night and had to wrestle their highest
ranked kid, a wrestler who ultimately earned All-State honors. Steve gave it
his all, but lost the match with a lopsided score.


We were
losing, but just barely, and the match was just getting started.


We found
our stride and started winning matches, one after another. Tim found his win at
130 and Ryan demolished his opponent, pinning him handily in the first round.
The score started to stretch in our favor.


Then it was
Matt’s turn.


I can’t say
just how pumped this kid was. He cared little for his injury, little about
pain, and all about the moment. He lived it like a warrior saint in front of
those thousands.


He sprinted
to the mat through the clapping hands of his teammate who made a tunnel with
their bodies. I was there at the end to slap him on the back and offer some last
words of encouragement. He ran to the table to check in and then dashed for the
line at center mat, sure to be the first there. The crowd hushed as his victim
(for he was no less in Matt’s eyes) took the line across from him and met his


The whistle
blew. Something glorious ensued.


For six
minutes these two young men battled. The display of heart and effort on both
sides was impressive to watch. The kid knew the gym and the moment were stacked
against him, but he refused to relinquish a point to Matt that wasn’t earned.


Matt’s own
struggles were obvious. He was brilliant at taking opponents to the mat, but
his attempts were subdued by injury. For every shot he took, he was met with the
spralling body of his opponent, a twisting, violent thrust that stretched his
damaged right arm beyond its abilities. He was forced to give up on many of the
attempts, but he never quit. Shot after shot, attempt after attempt.


At the end
of the first period, he hit a low single-leg that raked the boy from his feet
and gave Matt two points. The fans went ballistic and Matt fed on their energy.
He was in obvious pain, grimacing as much from the jolts in his arm as the
aggression on display.


In the
second round, Matt took the bottom position and won a quick reversal. 4-0. It
was unbelievable given the circumstances, but the dominance wouldn’t last.


Before the
two minutes was over, his opponent had reversed him and with grinding pressure
kept his weight on Matt’s upper body and near useless arm. The buzzer sounded
and the referee blew his whistle and stopped the action.


Matt was on
top for the third period, ahead 4-2, but barely hanging on. He was edgy and
anxious, ready for anything. No fear in his eyes.


I would have been terrified.


His mother
wanted him to win, he wanted to win, I wanted him to win. Everyone but the
other team, surrounded by now-crazed supporters cheering against them, was
pulling for Matt. The intensity of the moment was palpable.


I looked to
Matt’s mother and saw her face twist in her own version of fear…if not some
sort of happy terror if there is such a thing. It was never easy for Molly to
watch her boys wrestle, even when they were in top form.


I gave Matt
my last commands. “Hit the ankle. He wants to come up. Then get those legs in.”
Matt was a great leg-rider, and as his lower body was in better shape, I
thought our best shot was there.


The whistle
screamed and the clock started ticking. Two minutes and counting.


The kid was
one of the few physically stronger than Matt in that weight class that year.
His standup was powerful and Matt’s right arm couldn’t hang onto the ankle.
They were back on their feet with a 4-3 score. Both wrestlers were exhausted.
Both in great condition, the scrambles and fights for positions during the
match were works of art. Not much was left in the gas tank.


They had
already been sprinting for over four minutes.


reach was weak, but his speed was there. He darted in and out like a mad-man,
keeping the other wrestler on his heels as he worked for the shot that would
score. He rose to meet him chest to chest and the two were close to the
out-of-bounds line. Matt knew to watch his spot on the wrestling mat and took
the risk, another defining testament to his courage.


He launched
his man in a smooth lateral drop that landed just out-of-bounds. If Matt’s feet
had remained in, he would have scored and then some.


The clock
switched from counting minutes to counting seconds as :59.9 appeared and the
tenths of seconds blazed by in bright red numerals, visions of crimson against
the dark wall.


At the 30-second
mark, the other wrestler got in deep on a shot. Matt flailed and not one person,
including me, thought he could hold off the score. He was crippled and tired, a
terrifying combination in any contest.


believed, though.


I stopped
thinking about the match. I flashed back to Matt’s words—words about his mother
and words about winning. My ego and my energies for Matt both dissipated. Molly
had breast cancer, and what was about to happen didn’t matter. Did it? Should
Matt win or lose, it was all the same when more profound and life-changing
matters faced us in stark reality.


Molly could
die. Molly could suffer something more real than the loss of the wrestling
match. Molly might not have another birthday. The seriousness of her illness
was still a bit of an unknown, and all I could do was sit there with a stupid
look on my face. For the first time in years of coaching, I didn’t care about
the outcome. I cared about Matt. I would cheer if he won, drape my arm over his
shoulder if he lost. But for the first time it didn’t really matter. What
mattered was Molly. What mattered were the lessons learned from these
struggles, not the struggle itself. Matt’s match became one of those
infinitesimal moments that we all experience and from which we grow.


Time slowed
like it did in movies and I let my eyes do a 360, drifting around the gym
without control. I saw faces clinched in anticipation. I saw people watching
Molly. I saw tears. I saw smiles, and I saw fists pumping in the air.


scrambled more, but lost his footing…and the points. It was now 5-4 in favor of
the opposition.


Yet Matt
still believed.


20-seconds on the clock, I finally came back to the realization that the moment
did matter; it mattered to a lot of people with a lot of hope. It mattered as
the clichéd cherry on top. He wanted it. We wanted it.


I begged
for him to stand up. I screamed it like a general barking orders.


whistle. A rush of motion. Matt was on his feet. 5-5 with 18 seconds. Those
seconds shot by as Matt rushed his man. He knew he couldn’t wait for overtime.
He could barely move his right arm.


changed levels, dropping and firing ahead, a Smith-single—Mat’s specialty. He
hit the other wrestler’s shin and grabbed on for all he was worth. If his arm
extended, it would be over and his shot a failure. His opponent reacted as any
good wrestler should and dropped quickly, locking his arms between Matt’s legs.


scrambled and struggled, fighting for the score, fighting for something more
important than the points. This was for the win and they both knew it.


Matt’s arms began to extend as his opponent hipped into him with all his
strength. Ten seconds left. Matt’s arm continued to straighten. The inevitable
was happening and there was nothing we thought he could do.




screamed. Matt flexed. His arms contracted and brought the captured leg to his
chest. He wrapped the other leg with his good arm and came around for the


7-5 with
six seconds.


Six seconds
can be an eternity.


I pleaded. He looked at me with a patience I revere in this memory.


Matt caught
the ankle and held it this time. It wasn’t going anywhere. His right arm held.
It held for six seconds.


the buzzer called as the overflowing stands rumbled when an entire crowd came
to its feet.


opponent dropped his chin as he stood, but he knew he had been in a war. He met
Matt in the center of the circle and the two shook hands and hugged briefly.
Normally, Matt would then have run to the other coach to shake his hand, then
back to me for mine. Instead, we all watched and cried as he stormed to the
stands and embraced his mother.


What a
moment. It was like watching Rudy getting carried off the field, only so much
more personal.


No other
senior lost that night as we dominated the rest of the match and won the dual
in impressive fashion.


While the
others wrestlers focused on what was left ahead that night, Matt sat behind the
bench, nearly in tears of pain as one of my assistant’s cut the tape from his
arm. He welcomed the large ice pack like a trophy and sat next to me with a
relieved smile.


He cheered
his teammates and watched the matches, but as much as I kept looking over my
shoulder at him, he kept looking to his mother. Molly couldn’t rid herself of
her smile the rest of the night, nor the occasional tear that streaked her
cheek one point and one takedown at time.




the match was over, we lined up to shake hands with the other team. Head
coaches brought up the rear. When I finally got to shake hands with the other
coach, he held mine for a few extra seconds.


“I hate
losing as much as the next guy, but that was something special,” he said. The
next year they beat us in their own gym.


They left
the gym, but hundreds stayed. The floor filled with those eager to congratulate
their friends or family for a job well-done. I couldn’t move. I remember
standing in the center of the gym for what must have been ten minutes,
dumbfounded and humbled by something greater than myself.


I tried to
take in everything around me, but it was all too much. People shook my hand,
but I don’t remember who. My assistant coaches were celebrating and talking,
but I couldn’t join them.


I finally
came out of my daze and sought each family in turn. We hugged and smiled and
spoke about the future. We still had the Regional and State Championships.
There was still greatness yet to come.


I finally
found Matt’s family. There wasn’t much to say.


you,” Molly told me.


There was
no appropriate response. We hugged again and I remembered my selfish thoughts
from before. I wanted it to be my night. It was my birthday. I let the thoughts
drift away with a smile. There were more important things.


fight with breast cancer was a quick and decisive win. A pin in the first
period one might say, though she did have her own trials, some I’m sure she
never shared with me. She’s too strong for her own good sometimes and keeps
certain things to herself, not caring to have others worry.


Our team
ended up supporting and dedicating future years to other women, some whose
struggles weren’t as final or positive. It wasn’t the last time we wore pink.


I don’t
coach anymore, but I still have that tie.


That night
and those moments represent my favorite recollection from wrestling as a
competitor or a coach. No All-State finish, college-bound wrestler, or any
other victory comes close.


I really
wanted it to be my time, but it wasn’t. It is my best memory, though.


It was
Molly’s night.